The Act of Leaving: Twilight versus Buffy

I often wonder if anyone really cares about my literary reflections, but I figure that I’m probably not the only person who can’t stand too much reality, so here’s a little escape. I tend to hold the Twilight saga in general contempt, first as a fan of high quality writing (though I’ve heard Stephenie Meyer has improved, so good for her), and second as a Harry Potter nut, but when I got into Buffy and outgrew my initial Bangel shipper phase (Spuffy all the way), I found that Angel and Buffy kind of reminded me of Edward and Bella – you know, if Angel was emotionally abusive and Buffy (and I cannot stress this contrast enough) was one of the worst representations of a female heroine to wilt her way into popular culture. And yet I reflected that Edward and Angel are surprisingly similar. They both go out of their way to stalk and save the woman they love, they only drink animal blood, they’re liars – in that they don’t tell the truth even in situations when lying doesn’t really give them an advantage – and their appeal for the heroine (if we’re being honest) mostly lies in their good looks and mystery/unattainability.

Now, I’m not knocking Angel. I think he’s a very interesting character, and the very fact that Buffy has more strength and substance in her pinkie toe than Bella does in her whole body automatically puts Angel, as the object of Buffy’s affection, in a better light. I just don’t think he and Buffy have a strong enough connection to change him from a fairytale ideal to someone with whom she can have a real relationship. (I promise to write a ‘Why I’m a Spuffy Shipper’ post at some point.) Thankfully, the only similarity between Bella and Buffy (in the first three seasons at least) is that they embody what Joyce Summers says to Angel: ‘She’s just like any other young woman in love. You’re all she can see of tomorrow.’

So, let’s take a quick look at each couple’s break-up scene, or what I like to call the act of leaving, because in this case they precede a long period of separation. By the way, if you want to get a sense for whether a couple will stand the test of time, the dynamics in these scenes tend to reveal the quality of the relationship as a whole. For Twilight and Buffy, at a basic level, we have each righteous vampire making an unexpected announcement to his beloved that he’s leaving her for good, basically, because he’s a vampire.

Angel is very straightforward, using the classic, ‘I think we need to talk,’ and he expresses the reason behind his decision very clearly: ‘I’ve been thinking about our future. And the more I do, the more I feel like us, you and me being together, is unfair to you.’ His concern and purpose is for Buffy alone, saying that she deserves something outside of demons and darkness, someone who can make love to her and give her children. He gets emotional and openly says, ‘You know how much I love you. It kills me to say this.’ He is broken and self-deprecating, referring to himself as a ‘freak show,’ but he’s completely honest with Buffy, and the only time he is cold is when Buffy says, ‘I want my life to be with you,’ and he replies, ‘I don’t.’

Edward is not only cold, but also unfeeling and unnecessarily cruel, even in the face of Bella’s visible suffering. He literally drags her into the middle of nowhere against her will, and leaves her thinking that she doesn’t matter to him at all, let alone that she’s the love of his life. He says he’s leaving because Carlisle can’t pass for 33 anymore, then tells Bella, ‘Of course, I’ll always love you … in a way,’ denying that there was ever any strength to his affection. This is all bold-faced lying on Edward’s part, because after they reunite, he says that he only left because of how much he loves her, and he was trying to keep her safe from his family and other vampires who were hunting her (completely failing to realize that she’s in even more danger without them because those other vampires never stopped hunting her).

Angel leaves because he is holding Buffy back from becoming who she’s meant to be. Edward, if he truly loves Bella, has no legitimate reason to leave in the first place, and if the reader doesn’t believe that breaking up is unavoidable, Edward’s decision to leave is in itself emotionally abusive. Unlike Buffy, Bella has no pressing destiny outside the relationship, and while she might be better off with someone else, Edward makes no mention of this during the break-up or the reunion, not even in a self-deprecating way. Bella sees him as perfect, and he says nothing that would disagree with her. So really, when it comes down to it, Edward’s leaving comes from a combination of blatant selfishness and stupidity.

As for the women, Bella is on panic mode for the whole scene. Everything she says is a desperate plea for Edward to stay (when he lets her get a word in edgewise), then promptly faints right after he forces her to comply with his decision. Buffy is still a typical teenager – she talks about prom and asks Angel if he has a tux – but she shows herself to be both intelligent and strong-willed, first telling Angel to ‘drop the cryptic’ and be straight with him, then once he tells her that she deserves better, she pointedly asks, ‘Who are you to tell me what’s right for me?’ Buffy’s most immature response is when she says she didn’t have a choice in loving him, and ‘I’m never gonna change. I can’t change.’ But compare this to Bella’s most telling line: ‘This is about my soul, isn’t it? … You can have my soul. I don’t want it without you – it’s yours already!’ (*shudder*) This brings up the most disturbing difference between the two scenes. Buffy is just as heartbroken as Bella, but Bella is a freaking doormat, and Edward shows none of that protection he claims to feel so deeply for her. He saved her life a few times, yes, but because of how he treats her in the act of leaving, his ‘love’ is better described as a controlling possessiveness.

Angel’s act of leaving is devastating for him and Buffy, but he is the one who makes the decision to end it, and the audience believes it to be necessary. First we see that Buffy has written ‘Buffy & Angel 4 Ever!’ on her notebook, shortly before Joyce tells Angel that there are hard choices ahead, and if Buffy can’t make them, Angel will have to. ‘I know you care about her. I just hope you care enough.’ As a believable teenager, it’s unlikely that Buffy would recognize a lack of future with Angel for herself, and while this precipitates the break-up, this dynamic is consistent throughout their romance: Angel is the more experienced, mature partner, and even though there are similar in strength and conviction, there isn’t a lot of equality between them. (The most romantic act of leaving I’ve ever read is between Harry and Ginny, and they are complete equals during that scene.) The dynamics of their break-up give the final word on their relationship as a whole: Angel truly loves Buffy, but they are not equals and she is not meant to be with him. (And I’d wager that Joss Whedon, as a Spuffy shipper himself, would agree.)

While Buffy and Angel may be less than ideal, Bella and Edward are downright disastrous. Meyer calls them ‘the truest of true loves,’ but because Edward’s leaving isn’t necessary, Bella’s suffering is cruel, arbitrary, and unnecessary. Then again, Bella and Edward are lamentable characters in themselves, so maybe they deserve each other.

Six months after Angel leaves, Buffy has gone to college, fallen for a new guy, and averted another apocalypse. Six months without Edward, Bella has just recovered from a catatonic state, only to show increasing signs of recklessness that almost results in accidental suicide. Remember the Seinfeld episode where one of Elaine’s dates is a ‘bad breaker-upper’? She and Jerry agree that breaking up is a very important part of a relationship, and honestly, they’re not far off the mark. This dynamic is consistent in many stories, and I’ll likely be examining more as time goes by. But for now … as much as those break ups suck, they tend to prove more than anything else whether that ‘one’ you’re so desperate for is really worth the agony of separation, but more importantly, that the ‘meantime’ shouldn’t be wasted by becoming a shell of a human being (at least not for more than a few weeks). And who knows, if you’re strong enough you might eventually fall in love with someone better (ahem, Spike).

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